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The Magic is in the Grey

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describe how apparently opposite forces are actually complementary, for instance, shadow cannot exist without light.

yin-yangThere are many dualities such as light and dark, fire and water, increasing and decreasing. And this duality can be symbolized by yin and yang.

Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

In Chinese philosophy, everything has both yin and yang aspects. The yin yang symbol shows a balance between two opposites with a portion of the opposite element in each section. Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular situation, but nothing is completely yin or yang.

Without yin no yang, without yang no yin. There is always yin in yang and yang in yin. Together they are one.

In this light, it's very interesting that almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise! So in they are complementary to balance it!

without yin no yang, without yang no yin

The interaction between two opposites expresses life.

How does this relate to horse training?

When you look for example to the strategies to motivate a horse to learn something (see also the article about How Horses Learn >>) , there are riders who have an extreme dedication to a single approach, technique, concept, teaching principle, tool or strategy in horse training.

Still 24For example, let's have a look at the ways we can train a horse. In horse training we can reinforce desired behavior and we can correct undesired behavior:

  • Desired behavior (yin) can't exist without undesired behavior (yang).
  • Reinforcement (yin) and correction (yang) are also complementary.

Now some riders are completely against correction. Some even reject any form of pressure and only wants to work with positive reinforcement, and stick to this approach only.

On the other hand, there are riders who are very much against the use of treats and mainly rely on the 'pressure/release' techniques, i.e. negative reinforcement and positive correction.

In my opinion, extreme dedication to a single approach ignores the benefits of the other approaches and are denying that opposite forces are complementary.

stelling-bendingThere can't be a release (yin) without pressure (yang). Therefore every rider uses negative reinforcement, even if they don't want to admit it.

Yin - Yang approach in horse training

I prefer a yin-yang approach, so I can choose the approach that works best for the horse in the given situation:

  • Negative reinforcement (release (yin), taking away pressure (yang)):  Considering that a horse is very much used to deal with pressure/release in the wild and while living in a herd with other horses, this technique is very easy to understand for a horse when applied properly with a clear intent and good timing and dosing.
  • Positive reinforcement (reward, adding something pleasant (yin) ): By using treats or a lot of praise you can get an additional effort of a horse in meeting your request. They can become more eager to perform, because of the extra reward in the form of a treat. By giving a praise you can use a more yin approach (high, soft voice) or a more yang approach (low, strong voice), it depends on what the horse prefers.
  • Postive correction (adding pressure (yang)): When a horse ends up in a more pushy state, you could act like 'electric fence' and warn the horse by projecting the idea of "I would not touch me if I were you'. But if he does, it's in his own interest that he discovers the clear boundaries and that he is corrected (yang), just like the electric fence would do: totally without emotion (this is the yin in the yang), so without any form of anger, fear, or frustration (too much yang). Like a calm, wise, older mare would do with a tomboy youngster. By keeping your calmness and wisdom (yin), you can use this yang technique wisely, so keep the yin in the yang!
  • Negative correction (taking away something pleasant): A horse should always see a treat as a gift from you to him, he may never have the idea that he's taking the treat from you, that puts you in a submissive position. So if he's too eager in taking the treat (he's too yang), I just remove the food, I tell him it's mine, and he has to wait until he is in a more polite and well-mannered state (more yin).


So I prefer to have all yin and yang tools in my tool kit, and I choose the strategy that suits the situation, the type of behavior and the personality of the horse best. There is no single right way that suits every horse.

Having the flexibility of choosing the appropriate "tool" out of my tool kit leads me to tailor made teaching, which is necessary because every horse is unique.

Thinking out of the yin and yang boxes will lead to the magic.

It’s the black in the white and the white in the black that ensure balance!


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